Solving Workplace Safety Problems

Recently, it  was reported a business owner was requiring his employees to have guns.  His reason was that his offices were in not very nice neighborhoods and most of his employees in the offices were women.  When he announced the new policy, he provided the guns for each employee once they had been trained in gun use.  It’s nice the owner was concerned about employees and their safety but not sure that was the best way to resolve a problem.

On Friday, we posted to our Facebook page the tragic story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.  This incident is about a fire that ripped through a building where they produced women’s shirtwaist blouses.  It killed 146 people because there was a lack of safety precautions taken by the owners.  The year this occurred was in 1911 but why it occurred sounds like something that could very easily happen today.  The owners of the factory refused to recognize a union that was making an organizing attempt two years earlier because working conditions were horrible and not safe.

Unfortunately, both of these stories are examples of  how problem solving  does occur sometimes in workplaces either through neglect as with the shirtwaist factory or the knee jerk reaction of the business owner allowing guns in the workplace.  Yet both also provide examples on how  worker voice can help especially with safety concerns.  Safety is usually a great place to start with worker voice since most employers, unlike the owners of the shirtwaist factory, and employees share the common concern of making sure everyone gets back home just as they arrived for the start of their work.  It can provide the momentum for worker voice in other areas.

Problem solving wheels or Deming’s Plan, Do, Study, Act process are great tools to help groups, either in a unionized environment or non-union environment, thoroughly explore problems in more detail in a very methodical process and help identify other potential problems as well as come up with solutions that actually can work.  These processes also encourage reviewing the decisions periodically.

Some people are concerned about the amount of time these processes can take but the reality is a good problem solving process can actually save time and money in the long run instead of the knee-jerk reaction that may not solve the problem and require many more unsuccessful attempts that require much more time.  By not actually solving the problem, it could lead to other problems which also could cause more time to be spent resolving each of the new issues as well as be more costly if there are liability concerns.

In previous blogs, we’ve mentioned Skinner Diesel here in Columbus.  This is an organization that not only has reduced accidents significantly but has changed the culture and expanded business.  This is what happens when an organization includes worker voices  in a decision making process.

The story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory is sad and very chilling and more so because it could have been prevented.  Go to  Facebook and the CALMC page to read the story.

Hopefully, the organization that provides guns to employees will not have any issues associated with that but, again, by putting a group together to address the problem other alternatives could probably be identified that would provide an even safer environment.  As Esquire magazine noted, a security officer could have been hired or security cameras could have been installed.   Everybody has ideas, especially when safety is concerned.  Why shouldn’t workers voices be heard?

About CALMC Blog

Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to involving employers and employees to preserve jobs, resolve workplace issues, and promote labor-management cooperation. Visit our website at
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